Why has online education in India not taken off yet?

Statistics One | Coursera
Statistics One | Coursera (Photo credit: AJC1)

Indian Education sector is hot. We see innumerable startups popping up all around us. I wouldnt be surprised, if stats say that there is one EdTech startup per day. And I think the trend has been similar in last few years. But we havent yet seen online education taken off in India. On the other hand, we are seeing lot of action in online learning in higher education in US. Be it massive online open courses like Udacity, Coursera, EdX, MITx etc or informal courses at K12 like Khan Academy – we have been hearing a lot about success of these programs. There is also lot of action on collaborative learning and lms front where companies like Edmodo, Coursekit, Piazza etc are growing fast.

Why havent we seen any success story in India so far? I do not know the reasons but let me try to list down some possible reasons.

1. We are not ready yet for online learning? There are some 100 million+ internet users in India. But when it comes to usage of India, learning is not really the priority of these online users. Online learning competes with entertainment, social networks, ecommerce, news and many other things. In addition, learning is a serious engagement that needs some good amount of time allocation. So although, we say that there are so many internet users in India, and out of these there would be some percentage of students online. But how many of them really get through all other distractions and sit back for learning. I think in India we are still in those lingering stages where students are yet to commit themselves for online studies. Just a clarification, joining an online portal or discussion board in not what I count as serious online learning.

2. Investment ecosystem is absent. Coursera has secured more that $22.5 million with a model where they are yet to think about monetization. Edmodo has raised more than $40 million. And here again, there was no monetization model, though things might have changed with their platform model now. There are many other examples – Code Academy, Knewton, LearnBoost etc. We have not seen many such stories in India. Companies like Educomp, Everonn etc have raised lot of money but they are more of an infrastructure/ content stories. Education+Internet is missing. To be fair to investors, maybe they believe in point one above or may be they havent found teams that can execute like some of the american counterparts have done.

3. The right product is missing. I think we are yet to see an online education product (or service) with right user experience that is suitable for Indian students (specially K12). Some of the products are half-baked products released too early to be firsts in the market. Take the tablets for example. There is a deluge of 7 inch tablets from many companies (I can count at least 10 of them) that promise bundled K12 content along with the hardware. Take the best of them all and just try it out, you will know what I mean. Also consider other products like online streaming classes, or factory made animated content available from tens of companies. It is understandable that these companies are trying to crack the market and some will be successful. But in the long-term, things act against because online learning ultimately looses trust from parents, who pays for the product and student, who is the consumer. Scrappy products will make money in the short-term but will lose out in the long run.

It would not be fair to compare online learning with e-commerce. But if we look back 6-7 years from now, we were facing something similar in e-commerce. There were too many companies around, none making a real mark in the market. But then, suddenly something changed – due to market dynamics or changes brought by the leading companies today – and then we saw this gold rush in e-commerce. Thereafter, imitators and laggards followed.

I just like to think, that one day, things will change, this jigsaw puzzle will be solved and some company or set of companies will change the dynamics of online education in India.

5 Resources to Learn Programming

In last few years I have seen an interesting paradox first hand. While there are so many companies looking for good technical talent, there are also thousands of engineering graduates looking for technical jobs. And what explains this paradox is the skill mis-match between what companies need and what these grads own. Unfortunately, most of the engineering colleges are failing to impart these skills required in Industry. Take for instance, programming skills – I have met many computer science grads in last one year who do not know programming. I am not an expert in programming, but being a geek, I have been able to aggregate some resources that might be of some help.

1. Udacity – Udacity is an interesting startup offering free courses from the greatest teachers. One of the current course running is CS101: Building a search engine and Udacity claims to teach enough programming in seven weeks that you will be able to build a web search engine like Google. The best thing is that this course does not need any prior programming experience. The programming language used is Python. Although the course started on 20th Feb, you can still join it or join in next session.

2. CodeAcademy – Yet another startup, but the approach is different from Udacity. Instead of using videos, Codeacademy provides an interactive web application to learn programming. The app goes in step by step manner through each lesson and exercise. As of now, Javascript courses are available and this is a good start. The web app also keeps track of your progress. In addition, there is very engaging QnA platform in case you get stuck. The UI is clean and now since they have made it as a platform [means other can also create lessons], I think many more courses will be available very soon.

3. Khan Academy – Salman Khan has been in the limelight for some time (I had written about him earlier here). Surrounded by lot of hype there is some substance in his style of teaching. The best thing about this videos is the simple and casual language used. However, these videos are not enough if you want to pursue programming seriously but can be a good starting point. Heres the link – http://www.khanacademy.org/#computer-science

4. Project Euler – Project Euler is a series of problems in mathematics and programming. A good collection of problems to solve and the problems range in difficulty level. An example problem here –

Find the greatest product of five consecutive digits in the 1000-digit number

There are 366 problems I can see (without logging in) – enough number to keep you busy for a while.

Image representing Stack Overflow as depicted ...
Image via CrunchBase

5. Stackoverflow – If you are a geek, it is almost certain that you would have stumbled on Stackoverflow. With more than 2.8 million questions, and growing, this has become one of the biggest library of programming questions. There is very high probability that you will find the answer to the exact problem you are looking for and in case you don’t find, you can always ask.

So we have five different ways of learning programming. Khan Academy and Udacity are based on Video learning, Udacity is more structured and comprehensive. While Code Academy and Project Euler are based on problem solving. Codeacademy walks you through step by step , perhaps good for beginners and Project Euler throws a good problem and its all on you how to solve it. Stackoverflow is more like reference where you go when you get stuck with something. All said and done, as some of the programmers say, the best way to learn programming is by doing it.

Learnings from Mr. Salman Khan

For people who don’t know the other Khan, (I am not talking about the well-known actor Salman Khan, not that the actor Salman Khan has nothing to offer to learn), here I am writing about Salman Khan, also known as Sal Khan, from Khan Academy. Sal Khan started making videos for his cousins who were finding it difficult to understand Maths. He was working as a hedge fund manager then. One day he quit his job and started spending full-time developing these educational videos and sharing on YouTube. Today he has more than 2000 videos available on his site. That was Mr. Khan’s introduction in short. If you want to know more about his, please visit Khan Academy’s website. Khan Academy has now become very popular and Mr. Khan is enjoying immense brand equity worldwide.

Videos provide an ultimate learning experience to students, sometimes even better than the classrooms. Students can go through videos at their own pace – rewind, forward, go as many times as they want through a lesson. Mr. Khan has also come up with a novel learning management system where students can evaluate themselves after watching the videos. The key objective in his LMS (learning management system) is that students should keep trying on one concept until they learn it completely before moving on to another concept. In our conventional education system, students progress through their classes if they secure, say 70% marks. However, do we provide driving license if one knows how to drive a car only 70%?  Mr. Khan has also come up with concept of badges to provide continuous feedback to students.

The great work done by Mr. Khan is truly admirable. However, apart from learning Maths and many other subjects from his videos, there are some lessons of life which can be learnt from Mr. Khan’s life. Here they are –

Start small – Imagine making more than 2000 videos one at a time covering diverse set of subjects. Anybody would get overwhelmed by such a thought. “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step” said Martin Luther King and that is what Mr. Khan started with. I am not sure if he ever thought about creating such a vast library of content.

The smallest deed is better than the greatest intention (said John Burroughs)- What was Mr. Khan’s intention in the beginning? To help his cousins struggling with maths. Indeed a good intention. Was it to change the world using videos? I doubt. But then he kept working and sharing his work. His smaller deeds have turned big now.

Content is king – Instead of focusing on fancy softwares and tools, Mr. Khan focussed on creating easy-to-understand content. I have met students who find it easier to learn from his videos than what they learn face to face from their teachers. He has used no fancy animations in his videos but has delivered his lessons just like a normal teacher goes about in a classroom.

There are many more. Watch this video –